Friday, September 29, 2017

BBC must stop giving airtime to discredited theories

I have just emailed the BBC Executive Complaints Unit about the habit of the Today programme of still giving airtime to climate change deniers like Lord Lawson. In essence, I am making the argument that the scientific status of climate change denial is zero, nada and zilch. 

Are we wasting our time? Maybe, but speaking truth to power always feels like this. Eventually though, truth will win over falsehood, just as a cliff will crumble after withstanding thousands of waves. The BBC has certainly suffered an awful lot of earache after this last run that they gave to Lord Lawson. 

Anyway, here goes:

To Rebecca Fullick
Unit Administrator
BBC Executive Complaints Unit

Dear Rebecca Fullick
Complaint regarding the Today programme's approach to Climate Change

I wish to add further to the complaint contained in the several emails that you have seen, and at the same time I will collate the several emails already sent, to make for a more integrated reading.
Jeremy Hayes says on 22nd Sept that "Lord Lawson was invited to discuss the claims of Al Gore, a politician, on the economic case for investing to address the effects of climate change".
Lord Lawson believes that there is no economic case whatsoever for investing to address the effects of climate change, because he believes that the changes that humans are making to the greenhouse effect will not significantly affect human wellbeing, either now or in the future.

Therefore it is futile to invite Lord Lawson or any other climate change denier to discuss the economics of climate change mitigation, because all they have to say is that there is no reason to change the way we produce energy.
This is not an attempt to close down debate on the economics of climate change mitigation and adaptation. There is a significant and useful debate to be had regarding the economics of climate change mitigation, on these topics:
Are the market mechanisms to reduce carbon use which have been tried working?
Have carbon credits been set at the right level?
Would a carbon tax be simpler and more effective than carbon credits?
At what level should a carbon tax be set?
How can the regressive effects of carbon taxes be rectified?
What are the employment benefits of energy conservation and renewable energy?
How many jobs can be created?
What is the net jobs change as lobs are lost in the fossil carbon industry and gained in renewables anc conservation?
How skilled are they? How could these jobs best be created - by the market alone, or by state support, maybe by allowing benefits to be carried into renewable energy and conservation jobs?
How successful or unsuccessful has the Government's Green Deal been?
How could it be improved?
And so on. There is an extensive, useful and intelligent conversation to be had about the economic case for investing to address the effects of climate change. Such a conversation will be educative, informative and entertaining in the widest sense, and therefore in line with the central mission of the BBC.
Instead of this, we are presented by Today with stultifying re-runs of Lord Lawson giving his immmutable but fatally flawed opinion on why he is right and the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong. This is an insult to the intelligence of Today programme listeners.
Mr Neal in his email of 21/9/17 argued that "you may disagree with the position Lord Lawson takes on this issue, but his stance is an important one and is reflected, for example, in the current US administration which has distanced itself from the Paris Agreement".
There is no merit to this argument. Today would not give airtime to an advocate of sexism on because President Trump is a pussy grabber, or a Nazi on because the President thinks that many Nazis and are fine people. This is no justification whatsoever. President Trump has no credibility in this or most other matters.
Next, there is an argument about "balance".
Many people have pointed out that the BBC does not bring on a creationist every time evolution is mentioned. The BBC does not bring on a denier of the smoking/cancer link every time that link is mentioned. Why not? Because the debate is over in those two cases. The vested interests (Church and tobacco companies) put up a brave fight, deploying exactly the same techniques that the fossil fuel lobby is now deploying - playing up the uncertainties within the science. The pro-creation and pro-smoking campaigns delayed acceptance of the truth for a number of years in both cases, but in the end their hypotheses were overthrown by the science itself.
Which brings us to the central question - the science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
As you know, science does not "prove" things, it tests hypotheses and attempts to disprove them.
The central findings of climate science are that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (GHG), that we are increasing the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, that this is causing observable, unnaturally rapid global warming which will have serious effects on the ability of humans and other life forms to flourish.
Although in principle no scientific knowledge is immutable (in contrast to the claims of fundamentalist belief systems), these findings are as firm as any science can be. They form a central core, while at the periphery of the expanding science points which are uncertain are questioned, tested and debated. In this sense, no science is wholly settled. For instance, the question of attribution, of whether we can already detect an impact of our emissions on extreme weather events, is a new chapter in climatology, and subject to legitimate debate, although the weight of evidence is that we can detect such impacts, especially in the case of heat waves.
From the point of view of the scientific method, the hypothesis is that continuing to increase GHGs will have an ever increasing effect on earth climate, and this will have a serious adverse effect on the ability of humanity to live in comfort and security.
This hypothesis has been tested and examined over and over again in thousands of climatology papers, and it still stands. Consilience is often found in the literature, which means that topics have been examined from several angles, by differing means, resulting in convergence towards the same conclusion, which makes the conclusion ever more robust.
Climatological hypotheses have been tested and criticised not just in the normal way that good science is tested, but also in the extreme criticism that has emanated from the AGW denial lobby, and the science still stands. In this way, the opposition from those in denial has in the end made the science stronger and more certain.
We are now at the stage that the vast majority of climate scientists accept that our burning of fossil carbon is altering Earth's energy balance. The central hypothesis of climate science has been tested and re-tested, it stands and it remains valid.
It is time now to look at the hypothesis of the climate change deniers. In entering the field of science, they necessarily advance an hypothesis, and theirs is that continuing to add unlimited quantities of fossil CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security on this planet.

Their hypothesis demands that one or all of the following statements is/are not true:
[update 11/10/17 The "not" in the above sentence should be deleted. Apologies ]
  1. The greenhouse effect is not real. If this were so, the average surface temperature of our planet would be -15ºCelsius, instead of the present +15ºCelsius.
  2. Carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas, the second most important after water vapour.
    If this were so, basic molecular physics would need to be rewritten.
  3. CO2 is known not to be increasing in the atmosphere, and/or this increase is known not to be due to our burning of fossil carbon. This belief is refuted by a large body of work.

From the above we can see that the deniers' hypothesis that continuing to add CO2 (and other GHGs) to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security is refuted. It is not sustainable. It is contradicted by the scientific facts of the case.

Climate change denial should be relegated to history along with creationism and the belief that smoking does not cause lung cancer. Climate change deniers do not have a place in intelligent public discourse in 2017.

There are many other points that can be made to show that the deniers' position is refuted by the facts, but in the end, theirs is not a scientific position at all. Science creates a coherent picture of what is happening in the world, using the method of discarding disproven claims, and using consilience, the coming together of many different lines of evidence. In contrast, climate change deniers present an eclectic range of criticisms and objections, each of which they loudly proclaim as "the final nail in the coffin of global warming". They have some 50 disparate talking points, which manifest in an infinite number of variations, but they are not presenting a coherent picture, only bringing up an endless series of criticisms and doubts.
It may be argued that “lukewarmers” should not be lumped with deniers. In the case of lukewarmers, you would find that they might reluctantly, and with qualifications, accept the core science, but argue that doubling natural levels of CO2 (which is due to at sometime around 2075) would lead only to 2ºCelsius of warming at worst.

This is an important figure, since it is agreed by both sides; it is at the high end of the range of probability of the lukewarmers, and the low end of the range of probability accepted by the scientific community. It is also important as the threshold that scientists say we should not cross. Since are seeing adverse climatological effects at present, about 0.9ºC above pre-industrial temperatures, 2ºC would definitely not be the trivial change that the lukewarmers try to make out.
It is important to note that the 2ºC figure is not a place where warming ends, even in the lukewarmers' belief system; all they are aguing is that serious impacts on the planet will take longer to come about. They are arguing as it were that their policies will make our grand children's lives intolerably miserable, rather than the lives of our children. This is not really a defensible position.
I hope that I have shown that climate change denial has no place in intelligent political debate in the present day because it rests on an invalidated hypothesis. I hope that the BBC will in future give time to educating and informing the public in an engaging and enjoyable way about the changes that we need to make in the way we generate and use energy.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lawson

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